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More Americans Are Practicing High-Risk Drinking, Study Finds

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American adults are growing increasingly risky in their drinking habits, a new study found, calling the proportion of the population getting more dependent on alcohol a “public health crisis.”

The study defined high-risk drinking as the regular consumption of four drinks a day for women, and five for men. This has risen about 30% between 2001 and 2002, and 2012 and 2013. The rates for adults in the US with an alcohol use disorder, or alcohol dependence, have also grown by nearly 50% during the time period studied, Reuters reports.

The increase in numbers was greatest among women, older adults, ethnic minorities and people with low income levels or low educational attainments, the study added. Deborah Hasin of Columbia University in New York, lead author, said,

Light drinking has been shown to be helpful for people’s health overall, but heavy drinking can lead to some harms and impairment.

Heavy drinking and alcohol dependence are risk factors in many health issues, including high blood pressure, heart problems, stroke, cancer and infections, wrote Hasin and colleagues.

Previous studies have found that alcohol use in the United States dropped between then 1970s and early 1990s. But other research has suggested an increase between the 1990s and early 2000s.

During the study period, the ratio of adults using alcohol in the previous year went up from 65% to 73%. Drinking more than four or five alcoholic beverages in one sitting increased from 10% to 13%. The percentage of adults who met the criteria for alcohol use disorder also rose from 9% to 13%, the study showed.

Hasin said, “People need to really take some of the information about the potential harms of heavy drinking into account when determining when and how much to drink.” She added, “Policymakers and health professionals need to be aware of this, too.”

More research is needed to determine why exactly these numbers are increasing. “Researchers will be trying to examine why these changes are happening,” Hasin said.

The study was published in JAMA Psychiatry.

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